Art and psychology – they seem pretty different, don’t they? One is mostly images, the other mostly words. One is Official Health Care, reimbursed by insurance; the other is, well, reimbursed only when a painting sells. But I have been thinking about the commonalities as I transition out of being a psychologist.
Both are creative endeavors. Psychology, you think? Creative? But it is. With psychology, you have to take the complexities of the person and situation before you and find a way to make sense of it that is coherent and effective. I wonder, what is the story here? And how can I make a difference with that? Truly, that is not unlike looking at a landscape and finding an effective way to express what I see. It means noticing what’s important and winnowing out the distractions. It means considering what it is that’s unique about this particular landscape and how I can convey that. What is the story this landscape wants to tell and how can I best assist that?
Both endeavors require authenticity. I bring myself to the struggles and resources of each person I see for therapy. And I bring myself to the particularities of the landscape I paint. If the painting does not include me in some way, it fails.
Most importantly, though, is that both psychology and art demand that I hear and see below the surface. In therapy, people tell me what they can about who they are and what they’re up against. But what I listen for is what is unsaid: what are the feelings that they are not expressing? What is the hurt that is unacknowledged? What courage or persistence or skills do they have that they take for granted? In art, too, I try to look below the surface. Yes, it’s a forest or a meadow or a sunlit path. But what is the feeling of the forest? Mystery? Power? What secret does the meadow hold?
Consider “Afternoon Enchantment (a 16” x 20” painting, in “not so traditional landscape”). Here is the photo I used :
As you can see it was a heavily cloudy day, and the sky was darker and lighter gray, with only the barest hint of pale gold toward the horizon and barely visible in the clouds. The land shapes were fairly flat. I was very taken with the sky in this photo: all those cloud layers, that moody flat light. To me, there was almost an enchanted quality (thus the title!), a sort of otherworldly feeling. How to paint that?
Below is the painting, so you can see my solution. I started with changing the shapes to make for more drama and movement. See how the far hills and the sweep of the field are curvier? And look also at the shapes of the clouds. I have made them swoop more in a subtle U-shaped curve. I made the trees on the far right taller and the fir trees on the left more prominent. The result is a kind of rising up movement in the land and a pulling down movement in the sky.
Then I changed colors, painting the darker clouds blue-lavender and the lighter ones a sort of ocher. These are not exactly your traditional sky colors! I put them in the trees and field as well.
This painting seems successful to me. Yes, you can see the elements in the photo: the clouds and meadow, trees and hills. But you can also, I think, see the elements not in the photo: the moody, magical feeling that this landscape has, at least for me. So I hope to continue to bring my penchant for looking below the surface as I leave psychology and move toward art!